You know Brodie Van Wagenen is having a particularly bad week when Edwin Diaz registers two more meltdowns and it’s not the news that most imperils his job security.
Here’s what all Mets fans should be shouting into a hot mic: If their general manager wants any chance at retaining his post under Steve Cohen or whoever winds up with this franchise, if the Mets hope to qualify for these watered-down playoffs this year, then they must adjust their usage of Diaz, the booby prize of Van Wagenen’s first trade as Mets general manager.
Because Diaz has displayed for the second straight season that there are adjustments one must make from Seattle to New York, from the eighth inning to the ninth (or from the sixth to the seventh, in 2020 doubleheader-speak) and from starting a frame clean to inheriting baserunners. And those growing pains continue to singe the Mets.
Luis Rojas clocked a brutal work shift Sunday, suffering a Subway Series sweep at the hands of the Yankees, 8-7 in eight innings and then 5-2 in eight innings. The snowball began with an epic seventh-inning collapse in Game 1 as the Mets blew a five-run lead, the last three crossing the plate with Diaz on the mound.
“His stuff is there,” Rojas said of Diaz following Game 1. “We’ll keep working hard with him. He’s a guy that can come into big situations and get big strikeouts and close games for us.
“We still trust him. We still love his stuff, and that’s when he’s going to get the ball, when there’s tight situations like that where he can come in and get the out.”
With his team up 7-2 in the seventh, Diaz acknowledged through an interpreter, “At that point in the game … I thought the game was going to be over pretty soon. But then a few of the missed plays happened,” both by third baseman Andres Gimenez. He threw only eight to 10 warm-up pitches, Diaz added, fewer than normal, as he hurried to get ready with two men on and the lead narrowed to 7-4; he immediately added that he didn’t want to use this as an excuse.
After a 2-and-2 slider evaded catcher Wilson Ramos, allowing Thairo Estrada to score and moving Luke Voit to second, Aaron Hicks sent the very next pitch, a fastball, just over the right field wall to knot the game at 7-7. Back out for the eighth, with Mike Tauchman placed on second base, Diaz allowed Gio Urshela’s walk-off single to right field.
“I thought the slider wasn’t there like it’s been in the outings that we’ve seen him be dominant, so he was almost relying on one pitch,” Rojas said. “… That’s when they went after the fastball.”
“It just wasn’t working the same way,” Diaz agreed of his slider.
With 28 strikeouts in 13 innings over 14 appearances, his ERA rising to a still-good 2.77, Diaz has exhibited some dominance in his second Mets campaign after last year’s 5.59 fiasco; he called the caliber of his stuff “excellent” compared to 2019. Most of that, though, occurred while he was setting up closer Seth Lugo. Since the Mets shifted Lugo to the starting rotation earlier this month, Diaz has made four appearances, all in save situations, and recorded just one save.
Asked if closing is more tense than setting up, Diaz said, “It’s the same pressure either way. I go out there to do my job. If tomorrow they call on me in the ninth inning to go close, that’s exactly what I’m going to do, because that’s what closers do.”
Should it still be Diaz’s job? The Mets’ closer options have dwindled between the ascension of Lugo (who clocked his second straight solid if short outing in Game 2) and the placement of Dellin Betances (right lat) on the injured list. Hence a compromise might be necessary: How about limiting Diaz to clean innings for a while and see if he can graduate back to the advanced level?
Not fun dilemmas for Van Wagenen and the Mets to contemplate, all the more so with the trade deadline arriving Monday. Yet it’s one of their own making, the resolution of which could impact the fate of many.